UNESCO World Heritage Convention
The goal of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is to preserve cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value. The World Natural Heritage sites represent, for instance, outstanding and unique examples of stages of the Earth’s history, important ecological processes, natural areas of outstanding aesthetic value or endangered habitats.
The Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, also known as the World Heritage Convention, was adopted on 16 November 1972 by the UNESCO member states. To date, more than 190 countries have ratified the Convention. The goal of the World Heritage Convention is to preserve cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value as part of the world heritage of humanity for future generations.
The World Heritage List – the planet’s best
The most important instrument of the Convention is the World Heritage List, which includes over 1,150 properties. The intergovernmental World Heritage Committee set up by UNESCO decides every year which properties will be added to the World Heritage List.
Germany currently has 51 properties on the World Heritage List, three of which are World Natural Heritage properties: the Wadden Sea (Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein), the Messel Pit Fossil Site (Hesse) and Germany’s Ancient Beech Forests (Brandenburg, Hesse, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Thuringia).
Every contracting party to the Convention draws up a tentative list of potential sites to be considered for future world heritage nominations.
Proposals for potential future world heritage nominations can be found on the tentative list for Germany.
World Heritage in Danger
Another instrument of the World Heritage Convention is the List of World Heritage in Danger. The list denotes properties under serious threat and requiring special protective measures for their preservation. The list currently contains around 50 properties.
Wadden Sea World Natural Heritage Site
At its 33rd session in June 2009, the Wadden Sea Dutch-German natural heritage site was awarded the globally respected UNESCO World Heritage status by the World Heritage Committee. At that time, the World Natural Heritage property comprised the Lower-Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea national parks and a protected area in the Netherlands. In 2010, the existing property was extended with minor changes to its borders to include the Hamburg Wadden Sea National Park. In June 2014, the property was enlarged to include the Danish part of the Wadden Sea and a seaward extension in Lower Saxony. With this expansion, the entire Wadden Sea, extending from Den Helder in the Netherlands through Germany as far as Esbjerg in Denmark, is now recognised as world natural heritage. The site now covers an area of around 11,500 square kilometers along a coastal stretch of approximately 500 kilometers.
In summer 2019, the three Wadden Sea countries celebrated the tenth anniversary of the site with a cycling tour along the coast of the Wadden Sea World Natural Heritage Site accompanied by numerous activities involving the local communities and a big closing event in Wilhelmshaven.
The 14th Trilateral Governmental Conference, held in Wilhelmshaven on 30 November 2022, marked the end of Germany’s Presidency of the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation (TWSC), which it had taken over from the Netherlands in 2018. The Wilhelmshaven Declaration set out the TWSC priorities for the next four years under the Danish Presidency and adopted an overarching management plan for the entire World Heritage area, the SIMP Integrated Management Plan for ONE Wadden Sea World Heritage, which was drawn up by the Wadden Sea countries at the request of UNESCO.
UNESCO World Natural Heritage Beech Forests
Since 2011, five beech forest areas in Germany have been part of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Beech Forests site. Since then, a number of European beech forest regions have been added to the property. The joint UNESCO World Heritage property is now called "Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe".
Beech forests are Europe’s primeval wilderness. The World Heritage property comprises Europe’s last few remaining virgin beech forests and centuries-old beech forest areas unaltered by human activity. The following protected areas constitute the most valuable remnants of large-scale semi-natural beech forests in Germany:
- Jasmund National Park (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania)
- Serrahn in Müritz National Park (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania)
- Grumsin in the UNESCO biosphere reserve Schorfheide-Chorin (Brandenburg)
- Hainich National Park (Thuringia)
- Kellerwald-Edersee National Park (Hesse)
Today, the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Beech Forests property is the largest serial World Heritage site in the world. With 94 protected beech forest areas in 18 countries, it is the only World Heritage property worldwide that connects so many sub-areas. The property covers regions in Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, France, Germany, Italy, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and Ukraine. This requires cooperation across borders and highlights the close link between beech forests and European culture.